Locals await UAV test site request for proposals

WEB UPDATE: FAA expected to release RFP on Aug. 6

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Locals await UAV test site request for proposalsProponents of an effort to see Inyokern Airport named as one of the six test sites for integrating unmanned systems (UAS) into federal airspace are still waiting the requirements to be released.

As the use of unmanned systems continues to rise, the Federal Aviation Administration’s only mechanism for regulation is the issuance of waivers for individual systems. Congress directed the FAA to address that lack of comprehensive regulation by selecting test sites to gather information in order to draft data-driven controls.

The FAA announced it would publish a request for proposals on July 20, though that date has now come and gone without an RFP.

Although the process is expected to be highly competitive and potentially political, leadership of the China Lake Alliance recognized the site designation as an opportunity to recreate in the civilian sector what the Navy has been performing at China Lake for decades.

Eileen Shibley, who has been leading the effort, said that just as the local military installation is internationally renowned as a research, development, test and evaluation — made possible in part by the vast land ranges, protected airspace, clear skies, remote location and low population density — IYK has the same potential.

“ What we envision is creating at Inyokern Airport the same kind of haven for UAV innovation that Mojave Air and Space Port has become for the commercial space sector. We think we are leading the pack in terms of having all the resources — both natural and intellectual — to host a center for unmanned systems aerospace excellence.”

Shibley and a team of IYK and alliance leadership presented their proposal last week at the Kern County Board of Supervisors meeting.

“Her presentation was brilliantly delivered and well received by all the supervisors,” said Alliance Director Mick Gleason. “Mr. McQuiston commented positively and took the presentation under advisement. We are expecting a favorable review from the board of supervisors once more details become available.”

Other public officials, including Rep. Kevin McCarthy, have also voiced their support for a regional solution.

But while leaders in the effort say Navy, political and industry officials have responded favorably to seeing Inyokern named as a test site, the uncertainty of what the FAA will call for has prompted some to wait to take action.

On Tuesday members of the team met to review the proposal strategy, which is still awaiting the official criteria from the FAA.

“If you use the congressional directive as a measuring stick, we think that our airport is just tailor-made for this purpose,” said Shibley. “We are keeping everything flexible since we don’t know what the FAA will ask for, but we want to be able to hit the ground running as soon as that is released.”

Story First Published: 2012-07-25